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Grafting Sustainability onto Religious Rootstock: Horticulture & Islam

Updated: Oct 5, 2022

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[The process of embedding sustainability in the Muslim-majority countries is akin to an ancient horticultural technique of grafting.]

Note: this topic has also been covered in this video.

In the previous article, we glanced at the Muslim world, where the integration of sustainability into business and society must align with religious principles and laws (Sharia).

In Muslim-majority countries, religion plays a major role in society. Therefore, I’m convinced, if you want to successfully integrate sustainability, you need to do it through religion.


By GRAFTING it onto the existing religious rootstock.

This may sound like a s-t-r-e-t-c-h.

But remember, we’re not laying out some definitive position here, but simply exploring this territory…

What is grafting?

It’s an ancient horticultural method of joining two separate parts of plants/trees in such a way that they become one and continue to grow as one.

It’s creating a union.

Plant part A is called ‘rootstock’. It’s the existing part of the plant used as a base.

Plant part B is called ‘scion’. It’s the new part taken from a different plant and it’s added – grafted onto – the existing rootstock (part A).

  • Rootstock can be roots, trunk, stem, or branches

  • Scions are usually stems, leaves, and buds

Why do it?

Grafting is typically done when your plant has some desirable qualities (e.g. vigorous growth, hardy) but also some undesirable qualities (e.g. doesn’t bear a lot of fruit; doesn’t put on colourful / fragrant flowers) which you want to improve without having to plant an entirely new plant that would only have desirable qualities.

Say you have a passionfruit vine growing in your yard. It’s vigorous but doesn’t produce a lot of fruit (or the fruit is bitter). You can cut off the vine but keep the rootstock. Then, you get a different cut of a different passionfruit vine from somewhere – knowing it bears sweet fruit – and graft it onto your existing rootstock. You’ll then benefit from vigorous growth AND sweet fruit.

Or let’s say your apple (or any other) orchard is completely burned down after fire; the trees aren’t going to recover. But the roots could be healthy, in which case you would saw off the dead trees at the trunk and bark graft the new shoots onto the stumps and eventually re-grow the trees. Instead of planting new trees from seeds or seedlings, which would take a decade.

The point is to join forces; you take advantage of (a) the strong rootstock of your existing plant and (b) some desirable quality of the scion from a different plant, e.g. bright red flowers, jasmine scent, bigger / sweeter / tastier fruit.

So far so good…

But for the union to be successful, both parts must match up.

This is assured by:

  • Cutting and joining the rootstock and scion in a way that maximizes vascular (sap-flowing) parts touching to increase mutual “juices flowing.” Slant, triangular, or another suitable cutting angle is used.

  • Tying both parts together

You can graft scions onto the rootstock of related plants, e.g. various cultivars of pears, mandarins on oranges, etc. You can’t mix two unrelated plants, e.g. grafting orange scions onto pear rootstock won’t work.

If you do it right, you’ll have a strong, established plant/tree – with a new desirable quality, which is assured by “juices” (sap) flowing throughout.

A horticultural win-win.

Something strong, established and deeply rooted, where the new element is not just an add-on, but where they both become ONE.

Now, let’s take our gardening gloves and gumboots off.

In the Muslim world, Islam is the rootstock; sustainability is the scion.

Islam and Islamic law (Sharia) are established, strong, solid, valued, and deeply rooted foundations. Sustainability is the new, desirable and necessary quality, which needs to be grafted onto the rootstock for the union to be strong.

Sustainability is desirable because the worsening impacts of climate change need to be tackled; Muslim-majority countries have rising and younger populations of people who live in freshwater-scarce, air-polluted, drought-stricken, frequently flooded or differently challenged areas. Various Muslim countries have sustainability visions, they need to diversify their economies away from oil while meeting the SDGs by 2030. This happens amidst digitalization - more ppl have access to information, and the issue has “matured” – it’s now the new normal, not just the hotly debated possibility it recently was.

But for the two becoming one like your passionfruit vine, the matching must be done properly, which again means that the rootstock and scion must be:

a) compatible – similar in kind (like mandarins with oranges but not mandarins with pears), and

b) united properly (touching in the right spots, bound together)

In the grafting picture, we saw how both parts of the plant must touch each other in the right spots for the union to form and be strong.

In Muslim society, these meeting points between religion and sustainability are the points where you can coherently and reasonably connect clear and distinct objectives of Islamic law with clear and distinct objectives of sustainability.

And since the Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) are universally recognized, you can start by matching these goals with concrete Islamic concepts, tools and instruments, such as zakat.

Zakat, one of the five principles of Islam, is mandatory charity donations to those in need. Each financially-able Muslim must give zakat once a year. There is a clear link between zakat and SDG #1 ‘No Poverty’; by extension, you can link it to SDG #2 ‘Zero hunger’, SDG #7 ‘Affordable and Clean Energy’, #8 ‘Decent work and economic growth,’ and other SDGs.

More connections of this sort are in the previous article.

Once you are clear on the principles and strategy, you’d use the mechanics of your ESG / Sustainability framework to “join the dots”.

This is hard

Ideally, you’re after blending, uniting, and assimilation, not just integration, not just add-ons.

You want them to be IN your falafel mix, foule, hummus, and tahini recipe, one of the ingredients. Not as pickles on the side where you pick or don’t pick. In hummus, you can’t differentiate between the chickpeas and olive oil – it’s all one, like that passionfruit vine growing in your yard.

Unlike in the West, religion in Muslim countries is strong and in many countries VERY strong. Joining the dots between Islam and sustainability (e.g. through the SDGs) is not only possible but necessary.

We have only until 2030 to meet the SDGs.

Strong ethical, and moral religious laws used to be the rootstock in the West. That’s over.

But, in the Muslim-majority countries, it is the rootstock today…

So let’s graft sustainability scions onto Islamic rootstock to enjoy sweet Medjool dates!


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